It’s rained a fair bit the last couple of days. Not nice, good-for-the-roses rain, but hard, torrential downpours, with water bouncing off the asphalt and flooding the drains. Definitely not the kind of rain you want to be caught in while riding a motorcycle. Even so, there were a couple of bikes out on the road that I spotted while driving my truck and I had a good laugh at their expense.
I love seeing riders get soaked. I’ve been soaked so many times on my bike that I feel I’ve earned the right to feel smug in my truck. It’s especially entertaining for me to see riders who aren’t dressed for the rain, who thought they’d be able to dodge the weather but clearly did not. Their jeans and runners are sodden and their T-shirts drenched. They probably don’t even own any rain gear, because they never thought they’d have to ride in the rain. Me, I own a lot of expensive, effective rain gear, but it’s pointless when I’ve made a dumb call and left it at home, or ridden on just a little too far toward the dark clouds and been caught short. It’s happened so many times and even after 40 years, it seems to keep happening. I guess I’ll never learn.
At least when I do get caught in the rain, my riding skills are up to speed. I make a point of riding in wet weather at some point in the spring because I want the practice in poor conditions for when I need it. It’s not that pleasant, but I dress in all that costly stuff to make sure I stay dry underneath. Sometimes, the ride just happens because I’m out and it begins to rain, others it’s when my bike is in need of a wash anyhow and I want to ensure my gear hasn’t developed any leaks. Too often then, you guessed it, my rain gear is at home and my pants and boots get sodden and my jacket and gloves are drenched.
The point is, when bad weather hits (and it will), you want your riding abilities to be prepared. You need to know how your tires feel on wet roads and how your brakes react through puddles. You need to be ready to squint through an obscured visor or blink into the spray. You need to be able to respond correctly, as second nature, even when there’s a pool of cool water collecting in your crotch. You can’t do any of this without practice, and when it does happen, you need the ride to be on your own terms, not a frantic make-do as you hunker down for the journey home.
There’s a skill to riding in the rain that can’t be learned by just reading about it in a book or online, but here are a few things to keep in mind:
• You need to brake differently, and especially if you don’t have ABS – much more pressure is needed on the rear brakes because the front will lock too easily, and if that happens, that’s bad.
• You need to position your bike differently in the lane – wherever practical, try to ride in one of the drier tire tracks of the vehicle in front of you, for better traction.
• When you do ride in a tire track, remember that your tail light will probably look like the tail light of the vehicle ahead that’s creating that track, so pay more attention to the vehicle following you – you could be invisible to the driver.
• You need to be prepared for a far less traction – oil will rise up to the surface of the water and painted lines can be as slippery as ice.
• You need to ride more slowly and look even farther ahead, to double or triple your reaction time. When you’re used to looking through a clearly-wiped windshield at the various lights of traffic up ahead, but now you’re looking through a spattered pair of sunglasses and a fogged-up visor, and there’s a pool of water in your crotch – you need to be ready for that.
Nobody likes riding in the rain, but at some point, it will happen to you. If you’ve not yet been caught on your bike in wet weather, you owe it to yourself to put on your gear and head out, carefully into the next rainfall. It doesn’t have to be for long.
You’ll probably curse, but when you do find yourself soaked on the road, I want to be able to laugh cruelly at your misfortune. Modern technology can do a lot to make the conditions safer, but ultimately, you’re the person in control and you need to be prepared.